DIRECTOR: Robert Eggers

CAST: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe, Kate Dickie, Gustav Lindh, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Murray McArthur, Ian Whyte, Katie Pattinson, Ian Gerard Whyte, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, Ísadóra Bjarkardóttir Barney, Olwen Fouéré, Ralph Ineson

RUNNING TIME: 136 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A Viking prince (Skarsgård) vows revenge against his uncle (Bang) for killing his father (Hawke)…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re only four months in to 2022, and yet we already have upon us the best film of the year. There is no other way to describe the onslaught of absolute awe and inspiration that director and co-writer Robert Eggers carries all the way through his third feature The Northman, which is surely one of the grandest, most brutal and utterly compelling action epics since Mad Max: Fury Road, and will stand the test of time as a stunning piece of filmmaking that any aspiring directors will want to study if they too want to make something as culturally rich and visually stimulating as this instant classic.

The plot of the film is very simple, taking inspiration from the same 12th-century Scandinavian tale that inspired Hamlet (so if the connections between both Shakespeare’s famed play and The Northman seem overwhelming, then it’s purely intentional). Set in the ancient time of Vikings, young prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) witnesses the brutal death of his father King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) at the hands of Amleth’s uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang), who then proceeds to take the young boy’s mother Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) for his own. The young prince swears revenge against Fjölnir, and years later Amleth (now played by Alexander Skarsgård), who has grown into a strong and brutal Viking warrior, seizes his chance for vengeance by disguising himself as a slave and heads toward Iceland, where Fjölnir has settled his shrunken kingdom on a piece of farmland. There, Amleth allies himself with fellow slave and self-proclaimed sorceress Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) to carry out the revenge plan he’s been imagining since childhood.

It is an easy story to understand, so much so that some of the plot revelations may come across as a tad predictable, but none of that matters so much because what Eggers has done to craft such a manic and believably brutal world around said story – which Eggers adapts to the screen with co-writer and Icelandic novelist Sjón, who also co-wrote last year’s bizarre Lamb – is nothing short of mesmerising. The chaotic and maddening tone that Eggers previously injected into both The Witch and The Lighthouse is applied ten-fold to The Northman, brewing all sorts of surreal and grisly imagery that few other filmmakers would dare to incorporate for something designed to reach larger audiences. Within the prologue alone, there are scenes in which noses are sliced off, people crawl and howl like wolves, and Willem Dafoe slaps his own prosthetic willy; even that doesn’t compare to later when we see all sorts of mad things from horses galloping towards a gateway in the sky, to Skarsgård using his own skull to bash someone else’s head in, to Anya Taylor-Joy smearing someone’s face with menstrual blood. It is unapologetically brutal, like an awesome mix of The Revenant and The Green Knight where fantasy and grisly survival skills collide for a display of on-screen carnage that never, ever makes concessions or becomes boring to watch.

Eggers is truly at the top of his game here, a filmmaker with confidence to spare but also enough awareness so as not to treat the audience like idiots. His is a production where every single detail is absolutely perfect: the pacing is perfect, the musical score is perfect, the cinematography by Eggers regular Jarin Blaschke is especially perfect, and even the smallest of details like a pair of slit-eyed pendants over the face of Björk (as an enchantress early in the movie), or dramas unfolding in the background of one awesomely shot sequence of a Viking raid on a small village, is crafted and nurtured with such care and compassion. The performances are especially perfect as there is not a single actor in this movie who doesn’t completely nail the kind of wild tone that Eggers is aiming for. You’ll have someone like Alexander Skarsgård being an absolute beast the whole way through, slicing and dicing any unfortunate foe to cross his hulking and extraordinarily muscular path, and then there’s Nicole Kidman who at first seems to have picked the short straw in terms of main roles, only to find that she has way more to offer than simply standing there looking helpless, delivering some of the most chilling character moments in the entire film. Filled with such surprising and endlessly watchable turns by extremely talented actors, this is a revelatory ensemble where you simply cannot name a particular standout, because they all so perfectly execute the brutal and demanding story that Eggers seeks to tell.

There is honestly not a single thing about The Northman that I can say against it. The two-hour-plus runtime goes by fast, with each and every scene serving a purpose and not feeling flabby or unnecessary in the slightest. There are no characters you could remove from the equation, no shots which feel overly indulgent, nor even any parts of the story which you can poke holes in. This is as tightly conceived, produced and edited as you can get, a modern epic masterpiece that rarely comes by nowadays, and like Mad Max: Fury Road before it you feel like you are watching something truly unique and special that will be revisited and remembered fondly over the foreseeable future. I simply cannot see any other film this year besting this one in any way shape or form; it seriously feels like we’ve already reached the peak of cinematic excellence for 2022, and it’s in the form of this absolutely magnificent Viking revenge movie from a director who, only three films in, has become a visionary that you can’t afford to ignore.

Filled with fantastic filmmaking, pitch-perfect performances, utterly wild visuals, and enough mythical gore to make The Green Knight look like Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, The Northman is a grand and awe-inspiring piece of art that rides gallantly towards Valhalla and never, ever looks back.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Northman is an astonishing experience that puts it directly in line with Mad Max: Fury Road for its uncompromising brutality, fantastic filmmaking and storytelling by Robert Eggers, pitch-perfect performances by a revelatory ensemble cast, and an awe-inspiring sense of mythology and epic grandiose that transforms this Viking world into a compelling, and endlessly mesmerising, cinematic environment. For the rest of 2022, this is the one to beat (not that it’ll happen).

The Northman is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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